An Irish Anglers World

An Irish Anglers Year 2011.

December is both a time for reflection on the previous twelve months and also of anticipation for what the coming year will bring. In terms of angling for yours truly 2011 proved a good year, taking me to some wonderful locations, yielding a variety of quality fish, allowing me the opportunity to meet like minded interesting people, and all done so within the confines of our beautiful little country. Yes we might be in the throes of recession, and there are way more important things to concentrate the mind than where the next specimen fish is coming from, but life goes on so we might as well make the most of it. We all need to recharge the batteries while reducing the stress levels, and what better way to do it then go fishing.

A cracking River Barrow bream.

Ireland really does have a quality rod and line product with plenty of its best fishing opportunities still under the radar. In the last few years having recently taken up pike and coarse fishing, I am amazed at the quality of fish that I have encountered, and this from a fledgling exponent of both disciplines. As regards my first love sea angling, diminished and still under severe threat from bad management and overfishing, by taking a methodical species led approach my forays confined mainly to counties Wicklow, Wexford, and West Cork proved quite productive both in terms of species and size.

A trip to Montana in mid summer 2009 for a spot of wild trout fishing opened my eyes due mainly to the way that the Americans approach their sport. They think nothing of travelling to Alaska for the steelheads, Florida for tarpon, and Wyoming/Montana for trout. In all cases the product is marketed in a more sophisticated, specific way, and most importantly the yanks break up their year travelling to fish relative to the key taking periods. Given that Ireland is only a quarter the size of Montana it made sense to apply a similar approach at home, with lo and behold satisfying results.

Specimen Beara Peninsula grey mullet for UK angler Roger Ball.

Fish caught or witnessed by me in 2011 were of a high average size with one or two being absolute monsters, Gerry Mitchell’s huge plus Greystones tope standing out along with Denis O’Toole’s Avoca sea trout. Throw in specimens of dab and mullet from the Beara, flounder from Wexford, shad from Carlow, smooth hound from Wicklow, partnered by a host of lesser brethren, and one has to accept that Ireland really has a special resource, and all this through the eyes and experience of just one angler, the mind boggles as to what the real picture is.

Broken into its components the first quarter of 2011 was allocated to pike and coarse fishing with the second quarter devoted to further coarse fishing, shad, sea trout, bass and smooth hounds. July to September became a quest for tope with the latter three months devoted to winter sea species in particular flounder, dab, and codling. In between the road took a few tangents to include lake fly fishing for brownies and a planned May trip to the Beara, but overall the game plan was set late December 2010 before the first new year bait was cast in earnest.

A double figure County Cavan pike displayed by Gary Robinson.

Early January 2011 saw fellow Irish Angler’s Digest contributor and close friend Gary Robinson and I make our first pike fishing trip to a small Co. Cavan water. What a start it proved to be with three pike in three casts to yours truly (two on lures and one on a dead bait), the best going 10.oz. The fact that some key local information had been proffered by pike angling guide Peadar O’Brien only the night before which resulted in a venue change, is what makes the session memorable. Peadar’s advice was on the money.

The beginning of February saw Gary and I making the short journey to fish Athy’s famous marina along with that stalwart of Carlow Coarse Angling Club, Gerry McStraw and his good friend Ian Warburton. What an afternoon we had with a combined tally of over 60.lbs of prime roach, hybrids, dace, and perch weighed in for what was a short leisurely session. Returning to Athy the first week in April and finding the Barrow running a little above normal, Gary and I fished the main channel and again enjoyed a memorable day fishing the feeder catching a range of coarse species, with a couple of medium perch and some large hybrids the highlight.

Specimen shad from St Mullins, Co. Carlow.

Late April into May provided the most consistent settled spell of weather for 2011, characterised by sunny days and light winds. Word came by bush telegraph from St Mullins that bream were on the feed, which was the catalyst for a string of productive feeder sessions in the company of Gary, Gerry McStraw, and Paul McLaughlin. One bright morning over the top of the tide I witnessed Declan Roberts from Cork catch and release a whopper 1.3 kg specimen shad. Tempted by a Tasmanian Devil (what else) the interesting aspect was that it was only the 20th of April, now that’s early.

West Cork and the Beara Peninsula in particular are close to this anglers’ heart, I make the journey at least twice a year, 2011 being no exception meeting up with friend Roger Ball from the UK in late May, and also taking a long weekend in early November. Strong southerly winds became a constant from June and as I write in mid November are still present. The Beara is a specimen and species hunters paradise, however to get the best out of it you need settled weather, 2011 tested the patience of all who travelled there. Playing the percentages while using accumulated knowledge and hunches, some fine catches were made over the two trips, with rough seas limiting the opportunities on both occasions. May saw some fine pound plus dabs, codling to 2.5 lbs, and a specimen mullet taken, while November surpassed even that with bass to 4.lbs, codling to 3.lbs plus, at least one specimen dab, and a fine double figure bull huss for friend David Murphy.

Double dab from the Beara Peninsula, West Cork, Ireland.

Mid summer saw good numbers of sea trout enter the River Slaney and I enjoyed a number of evenings fishing for this elusive but sporting fish. In a pool about a mile below Scarawalsh bridge I was working a team of flies consisting of a Kill Devil Spider on the point and a Butcher when a slight lean on the flies at the end of a run close to a weed bed became a munching sensation, unfamiliar to me I put two and two together pulling down on the fly line while in tandem lifting the rod. BANG, a boil within which showed a paddle of a tail, silver and black spotted, morphed into an unstoppable run across the Slaney. My line fizzed and the reel screamed, the fish obviously a big salmon had taken the butcher intended for sea trout. Five minutes later after numerous deep runs with my arm aching, the single handed rod inexplicably straightened from its previous hooped shape. Gutted, I’ll never know how the hook came out, but the power of that fish will remain with me forever.

Late summer became a tope quest off Greystones, Co. Wicklow, my 19’ lake boat being utilised when sea conditions allowed to reach some favoured predator marks east of the Moulditch, and down along the Kilcoole bank. Mackerel for the most part were scarce but Gary and I always managed to get enough for a days fishing. The target had been to land a tope on the Jean Anne before the end of August, and on a red letter 31st day of that very month we hit pay dirt with five fish to the boat from eight runs with one breaking the forty pound specimen weight. It was tremendous fishing, reels buzzing, long runs up and down tide, spells of inactivity only for fish to arrive out of nowhere, and that cracking specimen, well worth the celebratory pint of plain in the Beach House after.

A cracking tope for all round angler Gary Robinson.

This brings us to the winter and a real possibility of reliving the old days given the amount of codling present off the south coast. Frank Flanagan from the Wexford based Menapia SAC enjoyed a fine session in mid October catching a haul of big codling from a local strand. Having opened my winter account with three two pound plus estuary flounder, I took Frank’s cue and headed for the south Wexford shingle banks. They did not disappoint, my first outing producing six species to include plus codling and a mullet of all species tempted by lugworm, it must have been hungry.

So here we are in December, the year has flown, Ireland’s international soccer team are off to Poland/Ukraine, Michael D Higgins is Ireland’s new President, and the codling thank heaven are with us in force. Without doubt the best winter season that I have had in years, catches topping two dozen codling with some prime coalies thrown in. Applying catch and release where possible, I’ve still enjoyed some cracking fish suppers.

A brace of estuary flounder from County Wexford, Ireland.

As I write the New Year plan has not really taken shape, although the Beara with Roger is a fixture come next May. The first two weeks in January will see me wrap up the season beach casting for Wexford codling, along with a flounder trip, and a session or two after pike. St Mullins during April and May is pencilled in for the shad, and of course by late June I’ll be busting a gut to land a decent bass. My God it’s shaping up already, now what about those gilt head bream?

Ashley Hayden © 2011.

See also: An Irish Angler’s Year 2013.